A Better Personal Listening Experience
They're opening a Starbucks and a Duane Reade directly across from the Grove Street PATH station, where I catch the train to work each morning. This will certainly bring more people to my growing neighborhood. This morning, the train was so crowded that I couldn't read my book, Murakami's colorful Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. So, instead, I did what I always do when there's no room to read:
I counted the number of people listening to personal digital players. From where I stood in the middle of the car, my hand grasping a stainless steel pole along with ten other morning hands, I counted thirteen people listening to PDPs. Of those thirteen, eleven were wearing Apple's plastic white earbuds, which are included free with all iPods. I think it is interesting and a shame that these plastic white earbuds, creatively and predominantly depicted in much of Apple's iPod advertising, have become symbolic for the brand. They don't sound very good.
I see these people wearing their white earbuds, and I want to offer them suggestions for upgrades. Throw away those plastic white earbuds, and try these!
Shure offers some wonderful alternatives. Their SE series starts with the $119.99 SE110, a sound-isolating design that uses a single drive unit, what Shure calls a "Balanced MicroSpeaker." I use Shure's middle-of-the-line SE310s. Ultimate Ears is another company offering very cool in-ear monitors. They attempt to match their headphones to the listening preferences of their customers. Their Super.fi line starts with the $129.99 Super.fi 3, said to be ideal for classical and jazz fans, while the $199.99 Super.fi 5 adds a subwoofer for fans of house and electronica. I've always been impressed by Ultimate Ears' products when I've listened to them at hi-fi shows. The sound is full and involving. Many of my friends seem to like the triple-flange designs provided by Etymotic. Their 6i isolators are small, attractive, and cost $139. I thought my Shures were more comfortable, but I was impressed by the Etymotic's clarity. Michael Fremer seems to like the Future Sonics Atrio Series in-ear monitors. He mentioned them in our March 2008 issue, saying they delivered "exceptionally smooth performance from top to bottom of the audioband." They cost $199.
There are many other options, too, at many different price points. If you're curious, you might try visiting Tyll Hertsens' HeadRoom. HeadRoom provides tons of excellent information and advice on enjoying a better personal listening experience. You don't have to settle for the plastic white earbuds. Welcome to the neighborhood.